Exclusive interview with the Minister for Europe, David Lidington MP
By David Eade
David Lidington MP was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the role of Minister for Europe on 14 May 2010, hence he is Gibraltar’s minister.
A Conservative MP he was elected to Parliament in 1992 for Aylesbury and was a Special Advisor to Douglas Hurd in the Home Office and Foreign Office.
In an exclusive interview with PANORAMA he answered my questions about the Foreign Office, Spain and Gibraltar but firstly he told me: “I want to reiterate our continued commitment to Gibraltar. Our position on sovereignty and the commitment we have given to Gibraltar are well known. We also remain committed to upholding Gibraltar’s rights, whether in regard to British Gibraltar Territorial Waters or in other contexts.
“The government also believes it is important that the UK and Gibraltar work with Spain to deliver further improvements for residents of Gibraltar and the Campo. We therefore welcome the continued commitment of all parties to the trilateral process, which should continue to build on the progress made at Cordoba.”
DE: Given the concern in Gibraltar over the actions of the Guardia Civil sea patrols entering the Rock’s – Britain’s territorial waters, what assurances can you give the Gibraltarians that this issue is being raised effectively with the Spanish Government?
David Lidington: The UK Government is confident of its sovereignty over British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and committed to challenging incursions. We continue to make this clear to Spain whenever appropriate – the Foreign Secretary raised the subject with his Spanish counterpart, Trinidad Jimenez, last month and UK officials raise it regularly in London and Madrid. And we continue to protest formally about serious incidents.
The UK Government also notes that developing closer cooperation on law enforcement matters would bring benefits for both Spain and Gibraltar. We therefore continue to seek opportunities to pursue this in the context of the trilateral forum.
DE: What action is being taken to ensure Spain recognises Gibraltar’s right to both sovereign waters and airspace under international law?
David Lidington: The respective positions of the UK and Spain on the sovereignty of the waters and airspace are well known. While we need to be realistic about the prospects of Spain changing its historic position, we continue to leave them in no doubt as to our commitment to Gibraltar and to upholding Gibraltar’s rights. We also continue to make progress on practical issues, for example last year’s agreement on Air Traffic Control, which shows that dialogue can deliver results which benefit everyone.
The UK Government will continue to intervene when appropriate to protect its sovereignty and Gibraltar’s rights under international law. The decision of the UK to take court action against the European Commission on the issue of Sites of Community Importance is an indication of our commitment.
DE: After the recent meeting between William Hague and Trinidad Jiménez at the Foreign Office the Foreign Secretary spoke of the large number of Britons who now live in Spain. When Anglo-Spanish relations are discussed are those British residents and British investments at the forefront of the British Governments mind rather than Gibraltar? Also Given that the number of Britons living in Spain far outweighs those in Gibraltar including Gibraltarians how does the British Government balance its obligations towards Gibraltar with the wider issue of speaking for British residents in Spain?
David Lidington: Spain is clearly an important strategic partner for the UK in a number of areas. But as Minister for Europe I am used to engaging with other countries on a wide range of different issues, and to taking into account the demands of different stakeholders. And I do not regard the interests of Britons living in Spain as conflicting with the interests of British citizens in Gibraltar, nor do I consider this to be a ‘zero sum’ matter.
I am clear that working closely with Spain, whether bilaterally or in an EU context, must not be at the expense of Gibraltar. The UK’s position on sovereignty of Gibraltar is clear and we are committed to protecting the rights and interests of Gibraltarians.
DE: Is there frustration on the part of London and Madrid that when its foreign ministers meet Gibraltar is forced on to the agenda by the Spanish/Gibraltar media (and politicians) when other political concerns such as the EU and wider world affairs are of higher importance?
David Lidington: The UK takes its responsibilities towards Gibraltar seriously, and we are very happy to make our position on Gibraltar matters clear to Spain and the wider world. We do not consider that doing so necessarily interferes with or prevents discussion of other important issues. As fellow Members of the European Union, the UK and Spain work together on a wide range of issues and shared objectives. It is in the interests of both countries, and of Gibraltar, that we do so.
DE: Thank you minister.(Photo courtesy of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office)